There are many effective medicines to treat heart disease.
Medicines can reduce your risk of heart attack, angina, stroke, or heart failure. They can help manage symptoms by controlling high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol, and improve your quality of life.
Tips for taking your medicines
- Develop a routine for taking your heart medications. Take them exactly as your doctor prescribes or directs.
- You may want to use a pillbox marked with the days of the week. Your pharmacist or doctor can help with this.
- Don’t stop taking your medicines unless your doctor tells you to. Most medicines have to be taken for the long term to keep on managing your heart problems. Even if you start to feel better, it’s important to continue.
- Some of your heart medicines may cause side effects. If you experience side effects like dizziness when standing or getting out of bed, sit or lie down for a few minutes, then get up more slowly. Tell your doctor if dizziness persists. If you’re worried about side effects or want more information, talk with your doctor or pharmacist.
- Don’t decrease your medication to save money. You must take the full amount for them to be effective. Talk with your doctor about ways to reduce medication costs.
- Tell your doctor or pharmacist if you’re taking (or plan to take) other medicines, including herbs or vitamins. Some medicines can be badly affected by others.
- It’s normal to have to take more than one type of medicine. Carry a list of what you’re taking with you.
- Regularly fill prescriptions. Don’t wait until you’re completely out of medication before filling prescriptions. Ask your doctor or pharmacist any questions you have.
Learn more about taking your medicines.
The medicines you take depend on your heart condition and symptoms. For a heart attack or angina, it’s normal to take different kinds of medicine.
Below is a list of medicines commonly used to:
- stop blood clots
- manage high blood pressure
- manage high cholesterol
- manage and stop angina.
To find out about a specific medicine search for it on the National Prescribing Service Medicinewise website.
Anti-clotting (blood-thinning) medicines
You may have to take a small dose of aspirin every day. It can stop blood clots from forming in a narrow artery and reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. If you can’t take aspirin, you might take another anti-clotting medicine.
Learn more about aspirin and its side effects on the NPS Medicinewise website.
Antiplatelet medicines include clopidogrel, prasugrel and ticagrelor. They can be used with, or instead of, aspirin. They help to stop blood clots forming in your blood vessels.
You usually need antiplatelet medicines if you’ve had coronary angioplasty and stent implantation, or have had recurring heart attacks or angina.
If you take an antiplatelet medicine, unless you are suffering severe bleeding you must not stop taking it unless your cardiologist or doctor tells you to. This is even more important if you have had a stent implanted.
Warfarin helps to prevent blood clots forming and treats existing clots.
If you are taking warfarin you need to have regular blood tests to check you’re taking the right dose and that it’s working properly.
Other medicines, including some foods, alcohol, herbs and vitamins, can change how warfarin works. Speak to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist about what foods can interact with warfarin. Tell your doctor or pharmacist about any other medicines you take or plan to start taking and read the instructions carefully.
Learn more about Warfarin and its side effects on the NPS Medicinewise website.
Some other anticoagulant medicines, called NOACs (novel anticoagulant therapies) include dabigatran, apixaban and rivaroxaban. These do not require blood testing.
Learn more about NOACs and their side effects on the NPS Medicinewise website.
Blood pressure medicines
Angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
ACE inhibitors widen (‘dilate’) your blood vessels and reduce strain on your heart. They are used to lower blood pressure, make your heart work better and improve your chance of surviving after a heart attack.
Angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARB)
ARBs are sometimes used instead of ACE inhibitors if you get side effects, such as a persistent cough, from taking ACE inhibitors. ARBs work like ACE inhibitors; they widen your blood vessels and reduce strain on your heart.
Learn more about ARBs and their side effects on the NPS Medicinewise website.
Beta-blockers can make your heart beat more slowly, and lower your blood pressure and risk of a heart attack. You may sometimes be given a beta-blocker for arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms) or angina.
Statins reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke by helping to lower your cholesterol. They also sometimes lower your triglycerides.
Statins help to stabilise plaque in arteries. They are often given to people after they have had a heart event (e.g. heart attack, stroke or angina) – even if the person’s cholesterol is in the ‘normal’ range. Statins are recommended for almost everyone with coronary heart disease.
You will usually be given a statin when you are in hospital. You will need to keep taking it when you go home. Your doctor may change the dose or type of statin you are taking, to make sure it is working properly and not causing side effects.
Learn more about statins and their side effects on the NPS Medicinewise website.
Nitrate medicines increase blood flow to your heart by widening blood vessels. They prevent or treat angina.
There are two types of nitrate medicines.
- Short-acting nitrate medicines relieve angina symptoms within a few minutes. These medicines are a spray or tablet that goes under your tongue. They are absorbed through the lining of your mouth into your bloodstream. The most common short-acting nitrate medicine is glyceryl trinitrate (sometimes called ‘GTN’).
- Long-acting nitrate medicines prevent angina symptoms. They do not relieve an angina episode within a few minutes. These are usually tablets that you swallow whole (you do not put them under your tongue like short-acting nitrate medicines).
Nitrate medicines may also come as patches, and you gradually absorb the medicine through your skin.
Men should not take erectile dysfunction drugs with nitrate medicines.
Learn more about nitrates and their side effects on the NPS Medicinewise website.
Can’t find your medicine?
To find out about a specific medicine not listed here go to the NPS Medicinewise website.
Heart Foundation Helpline
We are here to answer your questions. Call 13 11 12 and talk to one of our qualified heart health professionals. If you need an interpreter, call 131 450 and ask for the Heart Foundation.